Startups, Events

Savvy Cooperative wants healthcare companies to compensate patients for their insights

Savvy Cooperative, which won the MedCity ENGAGE Pitch Perfect competition earlier this month, developed a co-op business in which companies pay to promote their patient needs for participation in focus groups, surveys, and interviews as part of its quest to elevate the patient voice in healthcare and compensate them for their insights.

Savvy Cooperative won the MedCity News ENGAGE Pitch Perfect 2019 contest. From left: Michael Pellini of Section 32; Arundhati Parmar of MedCity News; Jen Horonjeff of Savvy Cooperative; and John Mattison of Kaiser Permanente.

More and more, drug developers, medtech and digital health companies style themselves as patient-centered or as providers of patient-centered solutions. Many rely on obtaining patients insights as part of the product development process.  New York-based healthcare startup Savvy Cooperative wants them to go beyond the rhetoric and see patients compensated for their role in shaping products from drugs to devices.

In an interview after Savvy Cooperative won the MedCity ENGAGE Pitch Perfect competition, Jen Horonjeff, the founder and CEO talked about how the business works.

Horonjeff said she started the business to provide an easy way for companies to connect directly with and for patients to receive payment in exchange for sharing their experience. Horonjeff has served as a patient advocate for several years and is well acquainted with the patient experience, having had juvenile arthritis and a brain tumor. Her co-founder, Ronnie Sharpe, who is also the chief strategic officer, has cystic fibrosis.

Although patients are frequently asked to participate in research, sharing their insights through focus groups, surveys, interviews, and user-testing are potential sources of revenue for them. Horonjeff said she sees Savvy Cooperative as a way to elevate the patient’s voice.

“It’s important to make sure that patients are fairly compensated. Patients have been sharing their insights for free, as companies profit off that input. While many patients do it for altruistic reasons, the fact is they have medical bills piling up. There needs to be a fair value exchange, and Savvy helps to facilitate this.”

The company generates revenue in a few ways. Companies pay to promote their patient needs on Savvy’s platform.  Co-op membership is not mandatory for patients, but those who wish to join the co-op pay a one-time fee, which makes them “part owners” of the company. Members earn points by referring contacts and taking part in the gigs, such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups that companies promote on Savvy’s virtual bulletin board. The more active members are, the more points they generate. The more points they generate, the larger the portion of Savvy’s surplus profits they get. Co-op members also get a vote in the company’s organizational decisions, such as electing individuals to the company’s board of directors.

Horonjeff said the company’s co-op model has resonated with clients who include market research agencies and small drug developers.

Savvy also works with small, early stage companies since many support universal design as a way of removing barriers to healthcare but lack access to the kind of research that larger businesses have. Savvy is keen to get buy-in from big pharma and large medical device companies.

Looking ahead to next year, Horonjeff said Savvy plans to add a way for companies to subscribe for its services. It also plans to launch a certification program for companies interested in showing patients and advocacy groups how they have worked with Savvy.

Photo: Catherine Andes